A broken nose is a common injury during military service. The medical term used for this injury is a deviated septum.
Many of the veterans who suffer a deviated septum also develop sleep apnea during service or after their military service. There is medical evidence which suggests that a deviated septum can cause or contribute to the development of obstructive sleep apnea.
Veterans in this situation may often already be service connected for their deviated septum. If these veterans also develop sleep apnea, they can make a claim for secondary service connection of this condition as it relates to the deviated septum.
What is the medical science behind sleep apnea causing a deviated septum?
Basically, here is a little bit of my understanding of the science behind this. A deviated septum obstructs the airflow through the nostrils into the body. So, when someone is sleeping with that obstruction, it creates negative pressure when their chest rises and tries to fill with air in the lungs. This causes closure of the airway, which then is what results in the apneas or the stoppage of breathing.
That deviated septum is what causes that obstruction. If the deviated septum causes the obstruction and the obstruction causes sleep apnea, then you should be service connected for both of those conditions because the sleep apnea is a secondary condition of the deviated septum.
Are there other ways to prove that my sleep apnea is connected to my military service?
Yes. Demonstrating that your service-connected deviated septum caused your sleep apnea is only one of the way you can prove it is service-connected. You can also show that your sleep apnea is directly connected to your military service.
Direct service connection often hinges on showing that your sleep apnea started during your military service. You generally show this by proving that you had sleep apnea during your military service. You may be able to show this through buddy statement testimony that indicates that you had the symptoms of this condition during service.
I also speak to many veterans who were diagnosed sleep apnea soon after service. When you receive your diagnosis will often matter in this situation because sleep apnea often comes on gradually. If you receive your sleep apnea diagnosis soon after service, you may be able to demonstrate that you actually developed it during service.
Take the situation of a veteran who is diagnosed with sleep apnea within a year of time in service. The sleep apnea did not necessarily start when the diagnosis occurred. In that situation, the sleep apnea could likely have started during service but was not actually diagnosed until after service.
VA likely will still deny your claim because you did not have that in-service diagnosis. We see this all the time. If you review what the symptoms of sleep apnea are, you may realize that you would, potentially for benefits by demonstrating that you had sleep apnea during service.
If you are in the situation where you were diagnosed with sleep apnea soon after the end of your service, you should seriously consider filing a claim for service connection and appealing your claim if VA denies it. If you can show that the sleep apnea was incurred in service, you should be eligible for service connection.
Can I prove sleep apnea from a deviated septum through direct service connection?
Yes. You do not have to limit your claim to an argument that your sleep apnea developed secondary to your deviated septum. You may also be able to present good evidence that it started during your military service.
If you can present this evidence, then it gives VA two ways to grant service-connection. They could grant direct service connection based on your sleep apnea starting during service. If they conclude your sleep apnea did not start during service, they could still grant you secondary service connection based on the deviated septum causing your sleep apnea.
Whether you win through direct service connection or secondary service connection, your sleep apnea is still service connected. Because of that, you will likely want to make both arguments in your claim if there is evidence to support them.